Christianity is Jewish

By Jan Willem van der Hoeven

"Christianity is Jewish." The title Edith Shaeffer gave to her book may be offensive to some, but it is historically true.

For in the beginning, the faith we call Christianity started as a purely Jewish phenomenon.

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By Jan Willem van der Hoeven

“Christianity is Jewish.” The title Edith Shaeffer gave to her book may be offensive to some, but it is historically true.

For in the beginning, the faith we call Christianity started as a purely Jewish phenomenon. No gentiles were involved.

During His life on earth, the notion never entered the mind of the Messiah in Whom the people believed that He was against Judaism in its pure form, and thus wanted to launch a new religion which later came to be called ‘Christianity.’

No, the Apostles were all Jews – Torah keeping Jews for that matter, who never turned their backs on Judaism but felt they fulfilled it by believing and following this extraordinary rabbi from Nazareth – Himself an orthodox Jew.

Jesus kept a pure Jewish lifestyle. So did the Apostles and the early Church, as we can see from the comment James made to the apostle Paul, when he visited Jerusalem:

‘You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law’ (Acts 21:20)

In fact, so exclusively Jewish was the early Church that when, the first non-Jewish converts were won through Peter and Paul’s missionary endeavours among the gentiles, the Church’s Jewish leadership met in council in Jerusalem specifically to discuss whether or not it was necessary to impose circumcision and a Jewish life style upon these gentile believers. This was their answer:

‘They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings.

Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law’ – to whom we gave no such commandment – It seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.’ (Acts 15:23-29)

This Spirit-inspired generosity on the part of Jewish leaders to the first Gentile converts was not that far removed an attitude from the one Jewish leaders today have towards those they would refer to as ‘righteous Gentiles.’ These Jews hold that such gentiles need only be faithful to the so-called Noahide laws and need not observe all the teachings and traditions of Moses.

Paul, specially appointed by the Lord as ‘an Apostle to the gentiles’ enlarged upon this theme in his letters to the gentile believers in Rome, Corinthe, Galatia, etc – all gentile cities, stressing that they needed a purity of lifestyle based on obedience to the Holy Spirit rather than to the letter of the Law, all in accord with this first letter of guidance of the early elders and apostles in Jerusalem, as he writes in his epistle to the Galatians for instance:

‘I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

But if you led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flash are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you be forehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practise such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Gal. 5:16-25)

Concerning lifestyle; as I already have mentioned, the Jewish believers in the Messiah certainly kept in those beginning days a Jewish Torah-faithful lifestyle, but they did not lay this as a bondage or necessity upon their gentile brethren.

Paul himself makes mention of this seemingly double standard among the believers of his day when he writes these words in his letter to the Corinthians: ‘But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. (1 Cor. 7:17-20)

However because there were these two different lifestyles admitted among the Jewish and Gentile believers during these beginning years this in no way denied the essential unity of Jewish and Gentile believers belonging to one tree, one body.

The Gentile believers though not forced to keep all the commandments and traditions of Moses were nevertheless accepted and integrated as full-fledged members of the ecclesia of God.

This is how Paul, an Apostle designated especially to the Gentiles describes it to them:

‘For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:26-29)

In Romans Paul uses the analogy of a tree to describe this new found unity between Jewish and Gentile believers, stressing however that we as gentile believers have become part not of a new tree called the Christian church but of their tree – the Jewish tree into which they have been allowed to be grafted in.

‘For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree, how much more will these, who are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?’ (Romans 11:16,17,18,21,24)

© Israel My Beloved




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